On April 28, in advance of the start of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, guest speaker Justine Ang Fonte spoke to the community in an All-School Meeting on “The Weight of Wearing Two Masks: Asian-Americans, Coronavirus, and the Responsibility Behind an Asian Face."
Fonte is a proud Filipina who lives in New York City, where she is the director of health & wellness at The Dalton School. She earned a B.A. at UC-San Diego, a master’s in education from the University of Hawaii, and a master’s in public health from Columbia University.
Her presentation, hosted by the Triple A Club and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, comes at a crucial moment for Asian Americans as a wave of hate crimes and discrimination has increased during the pandemic.
Triple A (Asian American Advocacy), a student club, was formed five years ago and works to combat the trend of oppression and aggression against Asian Americans by raising the visibility of the Pan Asian community and addressing the struggles and challenges Pan Asians face beyond the Hotchkiss bubble.
This is the first year the School has had a guest speaker in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Month. A panel discussion on hate crimes against Asians was also presented by the Asian American Bar Association of New York on April 27.
In Fonte's address, she said she hoped that the entire community would take away a sense of purpose in their roles to uplift Asian narratives and to recognize that allyship is the only way to reach racial equity.
Fonte recounted her own story of empowerment as an Asian American, having been inspired by her ancestors who instilled in her a sense of pride, but also an awareness of the oppression they suffered.
Today, she said, Asian American continue to be oppressed, and hate crimes are on the rise.
“We’ve reached a point in our world when Asians are very, very visible, and this isn’t new. Before it was, “Go back to China;” now it is, “Go back to China because you don’t belong here and now have infected us,”’ she said.
“When people see an Asian face now, it is associated with the coronavirus. And this is the problem, and this is why we are seeing so much visibility of Asians.
“But with hyper-visibility, comes a hyper-invisibility, because oppression against Asians has always been there.”
She commented on the “model minority” myth, which espouses that all people of Asian descent are smart, passive, and wealthy, and on the stereotype that all Asians are foreigners, which disregards how they identify themselves. These have been barriers in an effort to support the Pan Asian community, which reflects more than 30 different ethnic groups, she said.
The stereotypes support false assumptions about Asian immigrants, which is further reflected in the way many Asian women and men are depicted in the media.
The impact of mass media has led some Asian Americans to change their appearance through makeup and cosmetic surgery to be more like the dominant white culture, she said. In reality, having a positive body image should involve thinking about your body kindly, feeding it with kind things, and being treated kindly by others, she said.
“Objectification doesn’t humanize our relationship with people. We are reduced to objects,” she said.
It serves to reinforce the racial stereotype that all Asians are the same, no matter where they are from. In reality, “We are diasporas, so our narratives are going to be all very different,” Fonte said.
Addressing students, she said, "You play a huge role in supporting the Pan Asian community. Remember when you celebrate our culture, though you need to recognize and celebrate the people who created it.”
On May 13 at 7 p.m., Triple A will present a discussion on the legal profession and the practice of law, sponsored by the Asian American Bar Association of New York.